Meenakshi Shedde: Berlin Film Festival: Top five films

Feb 25, 2018, 06:47 IST | Meenakshi Shedde

Isle of Dogs by Wes Anderson, US: This exquisite animation feature is about a boy looking for his dog, set in futuristic, dystopian Japan.

A still from the Thai film Die Tomorrow by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit
A still from the Thai film Die Tomorrow by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

Meenakshi Shedde1. Isle of Dogs by Wes Anderson, US: This exquisite animation feature is about a boy looking for his dog, set in futuristic, dystopian Japan. The corrupt mayor deports the boy's dog to Trash Island, creates a fake dog flu scare, and poisons his political rivals of the Scientists' Party. It uncannily comments on today's India, where anti-superstition rationalists have been murdered.

2. Transit by Christian Petzold, Germany: Georg takes on the identity of dead writer Weidel, in order to escape the Nazis. Stranded in Marseille, he falls in love with the writer's widow. But, Petzold sets these European refugees from an earlier era amid the illegal immigrants of today's Marseille, making a powerful plea for today's refugees.

3. Unsane by Steven Soderbergh, US: Thriller about a woman being harassed by a stalker, shot on an iPhone. Claire Foy (The Crown) is a data analyst who becomes paranoid after being stalked; her stalker, now a male nurse at the health facility she visits only for counselling, locks her up as part of a medical insurance racket. A genre film with shock tactics, it is also a cautionary #MeToo tale about the horrors sexually harassed women can experience, when their claims are not believed.

4. Khook (Pig) by Mani Haghighi, Iran: A bristling Iranian satire, with funky costumes and heavy metal music, in which a serial killer is beheading bothersome Iranian filmmakers. The protagonist, a blacklisted but impetuous filmmaker, is annoyed that the serial killer isn't beheading him. Isn't he the best filmmaker? Political art meets vanity.

5. Die Tomorrow by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, Thailand: In this gentle, philosophical film, the director re-enacts, fictionally, the last day of six people who have died. As he intercuts this with interviews of young and old reflecting on death, we appreciate life, especially its small, everyday gifts.

An all-time favourite:

Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) by Wim Wenders, Germany, 1987 (restored version)

This great world classic reflects on what it is that makes us human. Damiel and Cassiel are guardian angels who come down from Berlin's Victory Column, and "leave behind eternity" to live as humans. Damiel, who later falls in love with Marion, a circus artist, says, "First, I'll have a bath. Then I'll be shaved by a Turkish barber, who will massage me down to the fingertips. Then I'll buy a newspaper and read it from headlines to horoscope..." All the small pleasures that make life beautiful.

Equally importantly, six Indian and South Asian films have been selected at Berlin. Q's (Kaushik Mukherjee) Garbage is a politically explosive, provocative film about a social media troll, a woman he has enslaved, and another woman whose ex-boyfriend has leaked "revenge porn" online. It courageously takes on India's right-wing, patriarchy and misogyny and fraudulent religious babas. Steve Loveridge's Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. is a fascinating documentary on Mathangi Arulpragasam, the cool but contentious British rapper-pop star with Tamil origins, who boldly addresses her politics in her music. There are three shorts: Payal Kapadia's And What Is the Summer Saying (FTII), explores the relationship between a honey gatherer's stories about bees and women's desires. Jayisha Patel's Circle, a UK-Canada-India film shot in north India, is a powerful docu short on a grandmother who accepts money to have her own granddaughter gang-raped. Rajesh Prasad Khatri's Jaalgedi (A Curious Girl, Nepal) is about a spunky Nepali girl who can entertain herself even with a drinking straw. The festival also screened a restored version of Franz Osten's The Light of Asia, on the life of Gautam Buddha, a silent Indo-German co-production of 1925. That's how globalised we were, nearly a century ago.

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at meenakshishedde@gmail.com.

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